We don’t know when Life’s birthday is.
Whenever I look at the bigger picture – of life on our planet with our double decker buses and red roses and revolving doors, I find it a bit dull. It’s not the monotonous drudgery of the average human life that I find dull, but the slow, precise way organisms indulge themselves; with evolution. It’s so intricate and complex, though, the way all life stems from a single primordial cell. If it’s all true, we all do indeed have common ancestry and all that separates our grandfathers from E. Coli is a few million generations of life finding a way of doing things it wants to do.
Which leads me back to the bigger picture – it makes sense. Aside from the disputes between things like abiogenesis and panspermia, all these sciency theories that are not really theories but fact, but still theories; aside from them it’s all very believable. Something called the big bang happened and it created space and time and atoms, and gravity eventually pulled these atoms together to form earth, and then some weird chemistry happened between atoms on earth and we have life. It’s a very harsh, clinical portrayal of what could otherwise be the most poignant narrative ever. But there’s no way for us to access that information. We don’t know when life was first born. People remember birthdays; grandparents tell pretty stories and parents tell horror stories, but they all still remember your birthday. And yet all we have to learn about where we really come from is talk of amino acids and self-replicating molecules.
I want there to be a creator; it’s more fun.
Why can’t it be another way? I’d like to live in a world where I wouldn’t be mad for thinking that this whole thing is a computer simulation, or that HAL 9000 really exists and we’re all just 1s and 0s in its singular reality. Or that aliens created the planet earth and will soon destroy it to create space for an intergalactic bypass. That would mean that there is an ultimate way to find answers to every question way have (aside from creating a giant computer or doing things the hard way by doing maths and launching spacecraft). I’d like to believe that there is indeed a creator, because that’s just a lot more of a poetic story to tell. Many religions have already painted a picture of what this creator might look like, or what this creator wants done from us mortals, and how we should eat, read and behave. When people are bored, as they have been for millennia before the Industrial Revolution happened and whales started dying out to feed our consumerist attitudes and corporate greed, they like reading and living colourful stories – and religions fulfilled that for the longest time.
Why do we need a god?
So I’m talking about god a lot, and here’s where I have to tread a bit lightly because I really want there to be a god, even though I’ve never been religious. I’ve spoken about this before, but I revert back to my personal inspiration, Albert Einstein: “If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” I marvel the framework of physics and mathematics that even begin to set us up for exploring the universe, but at some point everyone has wondered who set it up. Who set up constants like gravity and the speed of light, and was it a ‘who’ or a ‘what’, or was it even ‘it’? It’s so ridiculous that we can’t fathom the concept of nothingness before the creation of space-time; that we have to believe in creation instead of a limitless, four dimensional expanse, beginning from nothing and fading away into all of eternity. There has to be something, right?
I’d honestly prefer it if there were, but Einstein’s interpretation of god will continue to make sense for the longest time. Let’s say he isn’t right about this one – that either the religious identity of a god is correct, and there is a physical manifestation of a creator somewhere – or the more standard atheistic standpoint of there being nothing at all. How likely are we to encounter aliens? Does Fermi’s paradox, which so kindly tells us that it’s not fucking likely at all, mean anything if a god really does exist? It seems almost hideous and cruel that we’re put on a little rock planet far away in the Western corners of the Orion Arm in the Milky Way, far away from a heavily concentrated supercluster, far away from the centre of a galaxy, and far away from that thing, whatever that thing was, in the movie Interstellar. If he did exist surely he’d put us closer to some friends or enemies.
We might not even be thinking about aliens in the right scale.
I really hope aliens are real; I hope life elsewhere exists. It would be sad if it didn’t– not only because all our knowledge and culture would go to waste after a million years if we don’t escape this blue planet, but because we need some sort of scale to measure our civilisation against. The Kardashev scale sounds really cool but we really don’t know if it’s even taking the right scale into consideration; Kardashev talked about utlising the power of stars and eventually entire galaxies. We don’t even know if aliens can read. We don’t know if they’re blobs of goo who eat themselves or intelligent machines that zip through space at 99% the speed of light; we don’t know if they’re the size of microbes or Sri Lanka; we don’t know if we’re the first intelligent civilisation or the last – and both are extremely scary prospects (assuming we’re even considered intelligent). It’s just so many things to consider, some closure into whether we’re good, bad or average would be nice.
If he does exist, and I use the word ‘if’ and ‘he’ very liberally, I do admire his love for both mathematics and art – two subjects which in their cores are very dear to me. I like the subtle things he’s done, like how we see dendritic patterns in our body’s circulatory system, on our planet’s geography in the form of rivers as well as in the concentration of stars in the universe.
He’s created an excellent, ambiguous yet intriguing three–dimensional puzzle, the scale of which is daunting and immense but still excites a frisson among most of us when we think about traversing it. He’s created complex personalities, who create art, food, music and have the capability to love – all from a few amino acids. He created numbers and fractals and time and colour and an octillion other philosophical and physical canvases for us to paint, and for that I’m grateful. So, this god guy… probably a smart chap.